The Mother Essence Lineage

Part 2 – Ma-gÇig Labdrön and Jomo Menmo

by Ngak’chang Rinpoche

She was slandered as a mad-woman who had been possessed by a demon. Once fear had been stirred up by jealous male ecclesiastics, people became nervous of Pema Tsokyi. They lost their natural faith. They found themselves bereft of confidence in spontaneous devotion in opposition to the ecclesiastical conservatism that styled her as a demoness. The people then made accusations against her as well, saying she had gone to sleep in the mountains and been possessed by a Menmo. It was then that she became known as Jomo Menmo – the Demon Lady

Machig Lapdrön (Ma-gChig Lap-sGron) ‘Unique Mother Torch of Practice’ was the incarnation of Yeshé Tsogyel. Machig Lapdrön was the great Tibetan yogini who was the originator of the practice of Chod – the Visionary practice of cutting attachment to one’s corporeal form (in terms of the dualistic proclivity to relate to ones corporeal form as a reference-point that proves one’s existence). Machig Lapdrön too, is quite well chronicled in various texts that are currently available. Jomo Menmo is regarded generally as an emanation of Yeshé Tsogyel; but specifically, in the ‘Mother Essence Lineage’ as the incarnation of Machig Lapdrön. Jomo Menmo , however, is not very well known to Western audiences, and so I will give a short account of her life that was given to me orally by Jétsunma Khandro Ten’dzin Drölkar, a great hidden yogini of the Nyingma School whom I have had the good fortune to know as a friend and mentor since 1975.

Jomo Menmo Pema Tsokyi (Jom-mo sMan-mo Padma mTsho-sKyid) was born in the Earth Male monkey year (1248 CE) and passed into the sky-dimension in 1283 CE. She was born in the magical vicinity of the cave in which both Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel once stayed. The place was called Zarmolung which was located in an area of Tibet called É-yül, which means ‘primordial-awareness country’. Her parents named her Pema Tsokyi which means ‘Lotus of the Ocean’. Her childhood was relatively uneventful and her parents were fairly ordinary people. She spent her childhood helping with the general work of living in a family and also helped with herding the yaks and dris. At the onset of puberty (in the Spring of 1261), whilst she was grazing the yaks and dris in the high pasture lands, she fell asleep in a meadow. The alpine meadow was overlooked by the Dewachen-puk – the cave of great ecstasy, in which Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel had demonstrated attainment. The place was known as Khyungchen-ling – the place of the great Garuda. The Garuda is the ‘Space-eagle’, which demonstrates, in its being: the unborn, unceasing, ever present state of enlightenment that is the fundamental ground of the Dzogchen teachings and practices. Whilst asleep, she had a dream of clarity in which she experienced a profound Vision. A sonorous voice awoke her from the unconscious dream state into a state of pure and total presence. She found herself standing in front of the entrance to a secret cave in the mountain side. She entered the cave immediately and with a sense of keen enthusiasm. She did not know what she would find there, but she was consumed with a sense of immanence without hope or fear. Once inside the cave a Vision unfolded in which Yeshé Tsogyel manifested in a phantasmagorical variety of guises. These Visions melted into each other until they coalesced into the form of Yeshé Tsogyel as Dorje Phagmo. Dorje Phagmo means ‘indestructible sow’ or ‘thunderbolt sow’. Dorje Phagmo is the ecstatically fierce Dakini, whose head is surmounted by the head of a sow whose screech shatters illusion. The sound of the screech obliterates all concepts and sharply confides the direct meaning or ro-gÇig – the one taste of emptiness and form. At the moment in which she apprehended Yeshé Tsogyel as Dorje Phagmo, a complete body of teaching was revealed to her. She understood its meaning in the instant of its appearance. This teaching named itself as ‘The Gathered Secrets of Sky dancers’. She realised this teaching was something that she should practice in complete secrecy until its results were obtained. She knew immediately that there would be no obstacle to her fulfilment of these practices. With the arising of this knowledge the Vision of Dorje Phagmo dissolved into Chö-nyi (chos nyid – Dharmata, the Space of reality).

Pema Tsokyi awoke from vision, and went about her daily life. But where ever she went she gave teachings as the spontaneous expression of her Mind, voice and body. She gave Mind-to-Mind teaching as the natural expression of her presence. She sang teaching-songs as the natural expression of her conversation, and performed vajra-dance as the natural expression of her deportment. This had both fortunate and unfortunate consequences. Many ordinary people were astounded by her and recognised that she was a realised yogini, but the ecclesiastics of that place made people afraid of her. She was slandered as a psychotic, a mad-woman who had been possessed by a demon. Once fear had been stirred up by the jealous male ecclesiastics, people became nervous of Pema Tsokyi. The ordinary people lost their natural faith in Pema Tsokyi. The found themselves unable to have confidence in their own spontaneous devotion, in opposition to the ecclesiastical conservatism that styled her as a demoness. The people then began to make accusations against her as well; saying that she had gone to sleep in the mountains and been possessed by a Menmo – a demonic female being from another dimension. It was then that she became known as Jomo Menmo – the Demonic Lady.

Because of the ill feeling that the bigoted and narrow-minded ecclesiastics showed toward her, she decided to leave her home and family and never return to the area. It would seem to be a common problem faced by religious ecstatics and wisdom eccentrics, that they are attacked by religious moralists, academics, and philosophers. From the perspective of the gradual path it is regarded as highly threatening for a simple country girl to gain realisation over-night, and it is often the case that the ‘uneducated’ have a better appreciation of naturally-born wisdom, than those who have studied for long years in search of the same wisdom. It is also the case that men, especially ecclesiastic men, are threatened by female wisdom eccentrics. For those who study to attain wisdom there is often the problem of becoming hide-bound by conventional or traditional religious semantics, and then bigotry and anger usually arise.

After a period of ecstatic wandering, she reached a place called La-yak-pang-drong in the western part of Lho-drak, where she met a great Nyingma Visionary – the gTértön (gTér ston) Guru Rinpoche Chökyi Wangchuk (Gu ru Rin po che Chos kyi dBang phyug). Guru Chöwang (as his name is commonly contracted) was one of the five sovereign Nyingma Visionaries, and one of the three major emanations of Padmasambhava. As soon as Guru Chöwang saw Jomo Menmo he knew that she was the perfect sang-yum or spiritual-wife with whom he could bring his realisation to fulfilment. Through her relationship with him, Jomo Menmo was able to clear his Spatial-nerves (rTsa) of subtle dualistic eddies and currents within the Spatial-winds (rLung). Once his rTsa rLung system flowed with complete freedom he found himself with the capacity of realising the meaning of every symbolic device within the Visionary teaching he had discovered, but which he had been unable to translate. (The Innermost Secret Heart Essence Tantra of the Eight Wrathful Awareness-beings – bKa’a brGyad gSang ba yong rDzogs man ngag gi rGyud chen po.) They stayed a brief time with each other, in which they shared songs of realisation, and the quintessential instructions according to their individual Vision.

When Jomo Menmo decided to take her leave of Guru Chöwang, he advised her that the time was not right to divulge the Visionary teaching cycle that she had received from Yeshé Tsogyel. He said that it would be better if her Visionary teaching benefited people at a future time. He advised her, instead, to travel throughout Tibet benefiting people in a secret manner. To ‘benefit people in a secret manner’ is an activity that is particular to women, and does not involve any kind of describable method. Secret activity can comprise any human possibility, and can be utterly unobservable to anyone unless they are open to that style of transmission and teaching. An enlightened woman (or more rarely, an enlightened man) can simply appear to live in the style of an ordinary person with no outer sign of accomplishment, wisdom, or even knowledge. Such a woman is of profound influence merely in the ways in which her everyday life causes the innate enlightenment of others to sparkle through the fabrications of their dualistic conditioning.

On her wandering throughout Tibet she met many yogis who gained powerful realisations simply by meeting her. The most famous of these was Ling jé Répa (gLing rJe ras pa), who experienced the same profound purification of his Spatial-nerves and Spatial-winds as Guru Chöwang.

Jomo Menmo spent her life this way, as a wandering yogini; changing people’s lives irredeemably merely through the fact of their adventitiously finding themselves in her presence. In this way she engendered many lineages of female practitioners, two of whom entered the sky-dimension with her at the time of her disappearance from the world. At the age of thirty-six, she climbed to the summit of Tak lha ri (Mountain of the Sky Tiger), and on the tenth day of the seventh month (4th of August 1283) she and her two female disciples entered the Sky-dimension and were never seen again. Her extraordinary Visionary teaching returned to the Mind of Yeshé Tsogyel, and was later re-discovered by Rig’dzin Pema Do-ngak Lingpa; who was the incarnation of Guru Chöwang.